ODs Share 3 Keys to Reducing Stress and Preventing Burnout in the Practice

August 1, 2023
Reducing stress is crucial for facilitating a healthy workplace culture and providing excellent care. AOAExcel talked with five doctors of optometry from a variety of backgrounds and career stages to discuss the importance of mental health and to learn some best practices for reducing stress in the optometric practice.
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The doctors we talked with agree that taking care of mental health and preventing burnout is important for doctors, patients, and practices alike. “Mental health is absolutely critical to patient care,” said Dr. Lori Roberts-Hauser, past-president of the South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association. Dr. Matthew Jones, past-president of the Arkansas Optometric Association, said that “being healthier mentally and physically only helps you take better care of your patients and be more successful.” Dr. Lee Peplinski, past-president of the Kentucky Optometric Association, explained how mental health correlates with a healthy practice: “Successful practices have a positive culture in the workplace. When team members feel supported, they will perpetuate and grow that culture. And patients will see that—patients are attracted to happy, positive practices.”

Dr. Blair Holden, practicing OD and SCO class of ’19 graduate, highlighted the relationship between provider and patient health: “As health care providers, optometrists are often in a privileged position within their communities, and with that comes the responsibility of setting an example. We can’t very well care for our patients’ health and wellness if our own isn’t in check first.” Similarly, Dr. Dori Carlson, past-president of the AOA, spoke to her experience with burnout and the importance of caring for yourself as well as others. “I’ve witnessed burnout, and there are many things that used to stress me out when I was new to practice. We all went into optometry because we had some idea that we wanted to work with and care for people. Sometimes you have to take a step back and remember to breathe.”

Key 1: Communication

When it comes to reducing stress, “communication is key,” said Dr. Roberts-Hauser. “Don’t wait until you’re burnt out to communicate. Know what you’re capable of and seek to build an open, honest relationship with your team.” Whether you’re in solo or group practice, make clear communication with colleagues a priority. Dr. Holden agreed: “Having communicative, well-trained, and highly motivated staff members is essential.”

Key 2: Delegation

Along with communication, delegation can also help build a low-stress work environment. “Delegate,” answered Dr. Jones, when asked how to reduce stress in the workplace. “I’m not always the best at it, but it’s necessary.” Dr. Roberts-Hauser explained further: “Taking care of patients is a team effort. A team with well-defined roles that can support each other while accomplishing tasks will build healthy relationships while advancing your practice’s mission.”

Key 3: Scheduling

Finally, setting yourself up for success with scheduling is crucial to the wellbeing of you and your team. “Leave margin in your schedule,” advised Dr. Peplinski. “When unexpected things come up—and they will— you will have room to handle them. If your schedule is completely full, one small hiccup can throw everything off.” Taking a longer-term perspective, Dr. Carlson reminded us that a career in optometry is a marathon, not a sprint: “You don’t have to work 60 hours per week. If finances allow, consider reducing your daily hours or moving down to 3 days of patient care a week. Do what you can to make it fun and ensure that what you’re doing is making you happy.”

Ultimately, prioritizing communication, delegation, and schedule management are three methods that doctors of optometry can employ to reduce stress in their practice. While not all challenges can be prevented, taking an active approach to identifying and addressing workplace stressors is a beneficial step for preventing burnout and caring for the health of your patients—and the health of your practice.

For more advice and best practices from doctors of optometry, visit the AOAExcel Career Center. In addition to informative resource updates, the Career Center hosts an optometry-exclusive job board and resume database that makes searching for qualified candidates and exciting opportunities simple.

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